The author hot seat: That was nice. What was it?

My second guest in the hot seat for unconventional authors is George Polley, another writer with an interesting, unorthodox background. George writes in a style I much admire, clear and sparse, to produce beautiful images in the best story-telling tradition. When you know that George has elected to live in Japan, it’s hard not to see the influence of classical Japanese art in his work. I’ll hand over to George to talk to us about his writing.


J. What is your work about?
G. That depends. I’ve written and published a wide variety of short stories about Jonah, a Tokyo artist (fictional) named Seiji, a young schizophrenic man, an elderly ex-convict, a female serial killer, Sherlock Holmes and MacTavish (a big Scottish Fold cat) and a young woman who is magically taken into the sky lifted on the wings of hundreds of big Monarch butterflies. My two published novels — The Old Man and the Monkey and Grandfather and the Raven — are about elderly men and their animal friends. A Tanzanian friend calls them “teaching stories.” A children’s novel, “Bear: a story about a boy and his very unusual dog,” will be published sometime later this year. The novel that I’m currently working on is about Mexico City. In other words, Jane, I’m all over the map.
Genres? I think about the story first, and look for genres later. I never write specifically for genres
I want my stories and novels to take the reader on an adventure, to really get to know a story’s main characters, who they are, and what the world they live in is like. I want readers to feel like they were there, experiencing the story as it unfolds.

J. What inspired the story in the first place?
G. In the case of the ex-convict, it was having met someone like him. With “The Old Man and the Monkey,” I was a dream about a Japanese monkey. When I woke up, I asked the monkey what his story was. The novella is the result. With “Grandfather and the Raven” I wrote the novel (a story cycle) in response to a raven that flew right over my head. “Bear” came from a character in the “Raven” book. I liked him, so I brought him to Seattle (my hometown) and wrote about him and his human pal Andy. The Mexico City novel was inspired by living there for a few months back in 1973-74 and falling in love with the city.

J. Did you try to get agents/publishers interested?
G. That’s an interesting question, Jane. “The Old Man and the Monkey” was originally published by Abbott ePublishing, and was listed on their website. I had mentioned the book in the online magazine “Speaking Without Interruption.” Tim Hewston, the publisher of Night Publishing saw it, read the novella, loved it, and offered to publish it and advertise it on Amazon. Since Abbott ePublishing only promoted it on their website, I moved it to Night, and it went from there. I owe my career to Stephen Abbott and Tim Hewston.
Night Publishing and its successor Taylor Street Publishing have been helpful in promoting and marketing both books. Publishers sometimes move in new directions in response to market and business needs, so how long they continue supporting these two books is a bit up-in-the-air. That’s the way it is with publishers, and always has been.

J. Has it been a handicap not being able to stick a handy label onto your books?
G. Not really. It’s a matter of searching through the seemingly ever-changing list of genres, sub-genres and other categories. “Bear” is a novel for boys age 10-11. “The Old Man and the Monkey” is a fable, an animal tale. The same with the book about Grandfather and his raven friend. The Mexico City novel will fit into Historical Fiction (yes, I shudder to admit it, but the early mid-1970s does qualify as historical fiction), travel fiction, Latin America/Mexico.
The handicap may be in not working in one or two genres, which may make it difficult for readers to “find” me. Hard to pigeonhole an eclectic.

J. How do you tackle promotion?
G. Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and other no-cost methods that I run across. When I begin publishing myself over the next few months, I’ll also use KDP-Select and other Amazon programs, plus link my books to as many popular genres as possible. I will also work with several author promotion groups on Facebook, such as MasterKoda, Author Blog Group, Tom Winton’s group, and others, plus Goodreads. I’ve been inconsistent with this, which I must change, so I have to learn to schedule this in a workable program. The main things are consistency and avoiding flooding Twitter, Facebook and Google+ with promotions, as it turns people off.

In summary, my advice to to keep writing, look for quality advice on promotion, and find a good editor that you can afford and follow their advice. If you find a publisher, great, as they can and will promote your book. You will have to promote yourself, however, as they have other books to promote, so don’t neglect it.

Thank you, George for that insight into your work, recommended for lovers of fables and stories as they have been told since I suppose a family of Homo Sapiens first sat round a fire and wondered what they were going to do for the rest of the evening.
I completely agree with your advice about self-promotion. It’s hard but even if you find a good publisher who is prepared to push your book, you have to be prepared to make yourself visible, available and accessible to readers. Good luck!

Here is a brief blurb for each of George’s novels.

The Old Man and The Monkey. In Genjiro Yamada’s world, monkeys are dangerous beings. When a big monkey comes along one day as Genjiro is sitting gazing out over the valley, looks into his eyes and sits down next to him, he wonders: “What is this big monkey here for?” When the monkey repeats his visits nearly every day, he learns that the monkey means no harm. In fact, the monkey becomes his friends and, soon, the friend of Genjiro’s very skeptical wife. This is a tale about a friendship that lasts the rest of Genjiro’s life, a friendship that touches the lives of everyone who comes to know him.

Grandfather and The Raven. When Grandfather meets a big raven one day, he has no idea that their meeting will become an important event in the lives of Grandfather and his wife. When he shows up at mealtime one day, her exasperation knows no bounds. But the raven came bearing a gift. This big bird is full of jokes, tricks, goofy mistakes, and a few heroic deeds. The neighbors all think Grandfather has lost his mind, until Sir Raven (the name Grandfather gave him) wins their respect.

Bear: A story about a boy and his very unusual dog. When Andy Lindquist gets a new dog for his birthday, he soon discovers that this is no ordinary dog at all. He’s as big as a small bear, looks like a bear, scares people because he looks like a bear, and is the friendliest dog in the neighborhood. Friendliest, that is, until Andy or his parents are threatened by someone. You mean he attacks them? No. He has other ways of scaring them off. Oh — he’s also a hero in the neighborhood. Pretty unforgettable dog. Wish I had one like him.

The City Has Many Faces; A love story about Mexico City. For Minnesota native Joseph Manning, Mexico City was the most magical place he had ever been. So magical, in fact, that he settled there, immersing himself in its culture and its history, listening, observing and remembering. This is a story about Mexico City in the mid 1970s, told by its people and some of the expats who lived there. It is a story about meeting a young woman and falling in love. Unforgettable characters all of them, some of the many faces of this great city sitting 7,000 feet above sea level in the Valley of Mexico.

You can find them all on Amazon.
And don’t forget to visit George’s website here.


Author hot seat: That was nice. What was it?

Lesley Hayes is my first guest in this series of interviews, and she and I are going to thrash out the problem I evoked in my introduction earlier in the month. Actually we’re going to do it in two rounds, with an intermission so you can make yourselves a cup of tea, because we have been rather long-winded.
I invited authors whose writing doesn’t fit into a particular category to stand up and explain themselves, because sometimes getting noticed feels like bashing your head against a brick wall—you don’t make any impression, but you give yourself a lot of pain.
I started writing what I thought my adolescent children would like to read, given the complaints they voiced about what was on offer. Fair enough, you say. However, I live in France, i.e. surrounded by French people who speak and read in French. My children go to French schools; their friends are French. I sit in my corner scribbling away (in English) at what I want to write with not much hope that anybody in my immediate neighbourhood is ever going to read it.
What I write is my personal take on the world—its problems and some of the solutions to them. The people who have read what I write praise it, but very few of them found the book for themselves. If I hadn’t shoved it in front of them they would never have picked it up.
The characters I write about are nothing like either Harry Potter or Catniss Thingy. They are like the people I know. I hate sword-wielding heroines, princes of the blood, and the gang with a collection of super powers that between them make Star Wars look like a game of tiddley winks. When you write in the fantasy genre that’s a problem. No sparkle, no hot romantic interest, no exiled princes or half-dressed women warriors and you’re on a sticky wicket. And I don’t think I’m alone.

If the titles tickle your fancy they’re available here and here

So, here’s Lesley

J: Lesley, what made you decide to write, what do you write about?

L: Thanks for the opportunity to share my own experience with you, Jane. I describe on my website ( my early predilection for writing. I don’t think it was then so much a decision as an instinct. From an incredibly young age I was already writing stories. I was an only child, and I think it may have been a form of escape into an alternative world. I also loved words, the sound of them, the rhythm of language, and the secret magic of the metaphor. I wrote poetry as well as stories, and every so often throughout the years a poem has come, fully formed, intruding into ordinary consciousness like a dream, expressing a truth demanding to be told. The stories I write are always primarily about relationships – my greatest fascination since childhood. Family dynamics were the breeding ground for my nuanced observations.
Much of the action in my novels takes place in the mind and the interactions of the characters. I want to know them and discover their motivations, and I have to write the novel in order to find out. Long before I trained to become a psychotherapist I was already a psychologist and a deep thinking philosopher. I didn’t need books to teach me these subjects. It came naturally to me. I was blessed or cursed with an inquiring mind. It’s what has continued to intrigue and drive me, throughout my career as a therapist and now that I have returned to writing fiction.

J: Has your writing style/genre thrown up any problems?

L: The issue of genre and whether or not square pegs can fit into round holes, I don’t see so much as a problem as a phenomenon of our times. Back in the day, when I was being published by actual publishers and had an actual agent, there was always a certain amount of categorisation, but it seems to me that this has become more fixed in today’s market, and especially in the world of self-publishing. The very idea of self-publishing was anathema to ‘serious writers’ when I was writing fiction twenty years ago. I think there is still a degree of sneering that goes on, and darkly muttered indictments referring to ‘vanity publishing.’
This casts something of a pall over serious writers who have chosen to self-publish because they see this is the way the trend is going, now that increasing numbers of publishers have their backs to the wall.

J: There is certainly a lot to wade through if a reader is trawling the Amazon categories. In one way it makes sense to have signposts to guide readers, in another it doesn’t allow for the books that don’t fit. I mean, what is General Fiction supposed to mean? It certainly doesn’t conjure up the idea of a book that breaks the mould. More likely the book that will bore you to death.

L: My novels have always fought against being categorised, much as I have in the rest of my life. Who wants to be put in a box that defines them before they are truly known? My stories aren’t romances, although I do write about love. They aren’t erotic fiction although I don’t shy away from describing scenes of sexual intimacy when the storyline requires it. They couldn’t be described as historical, fantasy, vampire, zombie or thriller fiction – although since someone who read The Drowned Phoenician Sailor said it was a kind of psychological thriller, I loosely accepted that label. So that leaves me in the vast uncharted and frequently unexplored waters of ‘General Fiction’. I write literary novels that have a good story, strong characterisation, a fully worked out plot and a point to make. However, I haven’t been on Big Brother or had my own cookery programme or otherwise developed a fan base, so entering the world of mainstream publishing is these days no easy task.

J: How did you set about getting published? Was it the usual round of agents and publishers?

L: After completing The Drowned Phoenician Sailor I tried for a year to find an agent to represent me. I approached every agent out there who purported to have interest in my kind of fiction. My previous agent had retired, much as I now had from psychotherapy practice, and to begin with I still believed that you needed an agent to knock on publishers’ doors. The ones who replied to my submissions were enthusiastic about the quality of my writing but all said they were only able to take on one or two new authors a year, and sadly (they always said sadly) this wasn’t going to be me. “But keep trying to find someone to represent you,” they all said. “I’m sure you will.” They didn’t add wryly: “And good luck with that…” although I suspect they probably thought it. All this time my son kept saying: “You don’t need an agent, you don’t need a publisher. Look at the way the world is now. In a few years everyone will have a kindle. It’s the PC revolution all over again. People are even reading books on their iPhones. Find out how to publish through Amazon.” So eventually I took the plunge.

On that cliff-hanger we will take a break. INTERMISSION


Or if you’d rather


J: Self publishing is the obvious way round the problem of the gatekeepers, but it does mean the entire burden of both publishing and promotion is on the author.

L: Without an agent and a publisher you must rapidly learn all the skills of an additional career in advertising. Self-promotion doesn’t come easily for a writer – not for this writer, anyway. Basically, what I really want to be doing is writing, not all this social networking and casting my bread upon the waters – the oceanic waters I might add – of twitter and facebook. I’ve met some great people – albeit in passing, mostly – on both, but I don’t know that all this tweeting and retweeting and shouting out: “Look at me, over here!” in the crowded twitter marketplace is actually having any effect, except that the people following me are probably bored to the brim with the constant repetition.

J: As you say, the line between promotion and harassment is a very fine one. But if you don’t push yourself forward who is going to notice you? Just waiting politely at the back might be very British but it won’t sell your books. The sheer volume of fiction available is staggering, and much of it is annoyingly awful.

L: I guess the biggest shock for me, having originally embarked on self-publishing as a kind of experiment, has been to discover there the magnitude of badly edited, badly written, misspelt, ungrammatical and carelessly plotted books claiming to be best-sellers. Anyone can publish a book on kindle and take on the mantle of ‘author’. But I don’t see them as competition. The world is plenty big enough for books that suit all kinds of audiences, and for me that’s just a sad reflection of how low the bar is set for a lot of readers. The difficulty seems to be that with all of that jostling for space beside other genuinely well written books as well as the dross, becoming visible is an incredible challenge. There is no filter separating the good from the bad. Fortunately Amazon have had the foresight to offer a “Look inside” feature, so that you can check out within the first few paragraphs, or sentences in some cases, whether the self-proclaimed author lives up to that title. My confidence has been restored in coming across a few books that have impressed me enough to put on my own kindle. Usually they also defy categorisation, or sit uneasily between several genres.

J: But the idle Amazon browsers have to find you before they even get to the stage of ‘looking inside’. The first stumbling block to recognition must be deciding how you’re going to categorise your book, before you even decide which reviewers might be interested. Because reviews are all-important in helping to get your book on the map.

L: Real reviews, of course. Do you want to sell your soul for the dubious prize of buying in a load of fake ‘reviews’ by people who haven’t actually read the book? Some people do, and the more reviews you have, the higher up the Amazon visibility charts you will rise.
My first novel has accrued 8 genuine reviews, the last time I counted – my first short story collection has 4. Since I know they are authentic, I feel good about them, yet I’m so far out of the Amazon best-seller list that I might as well be a minor planet circling a distant star in a galaxy far far away. I am not even a blip on the radar – in spite of all my dedicated marketing in the twittersphere.

J: But that hasn’t stopped you writing.

L: As a writer, I would write anyway. All the years that I wasn’t writing fiction but listening to other people’s real and often harrowing stories, I wrote extensively in my journal. It was something I simply had to do, the same way I need to regularly discharge all the usual bodily functions. I won’t go into details. But it would be dishonest to say I only write for myself. I want to share my novels and short stories. I want them to have value for other people as well as for me. I want to give pleasure through them and know that I’ve succeeded. I’m not in it for the money or the fame (I would run a mile from that) but for the quiet satisfaction of knowing that other people recognised my talent for what it is and were moved, touched, inspired and entertained by it.

I’m sure many of us can empathise with that final message. Thank you Lesley for such an entertaining chat. I know it has given me food for thought.
Go to Lesley’s blog ( to read more about her writing, and her books can all be found on Amazon